MBNMS Releases Preliminary Findings from Upcoming Sanctuary Report

Giant kelp forest

Once an area depleted of marine mammal populations and key fish populations but now teeming with wildlife, Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary has experienced dramatic improvement since its designation in 1992. The sanctuary was established for the purpose of resource protection, research, education and public use.

In response to the international focus on Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary during “Big Blue LIVE”, sanctuary management is highlighting some preliminary findings from an upcoming NOAA report on the condition of the sanctuary.

Overall, marine habitats and living resources in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary are in good condition (highest rating for condition reports), according to a preliminary evaluation of current trends and pressures facing the sanctuary:

  • Key species groups appear to be stable or increasing, including humpback whales, blue whales, gray whales, elephant seals and numerous species of fish.
  • Benthic habitats and living resources on or near Davidson Seamount appear to be in near-pristine condition.
  • Kelp forests and corals are generally abundant and stable. Kelp is the backbone of the sanctuary’s coastal ecology. Like the trees in a forest, these giant algae provide food and shelter for the many organisms dependent on these plants.
  • Most beaches show improved water quality and lower human health risk due to improved sewer infrastructure and non-point source controls.

Sanctuary management has identified opportunities to better understand, protect and improve conditions. Issues of concern include:

  • Contaminants found in some habitats and marine wildlife.
  • Ocean debris accumulating and causing impacts to animals through ingestion and entanglement.
  • Impacts from activities such as sand mining and human-caused noise.
  • Localized wildlife disturbance.
  • Impacts of global climate change, especially ocean acidification, which causes shell-forming organisms to dissolve and can negatively impact plankton populations – the base of the food-web.

(NOTE: the full report contains detailed information and will be available fall of 2015  here)

Success stories of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (from research and sources in addition to condition report):

  • Since 1992, the sanctuary’s productive ecosystem has supported harvest of more than a billion pounds of sardines, anchovies and squid. Along with krill, which are not fished, these are the most significant prey in the ecosystem, upon which many species from whales to salmon to seabirds to halibut rely. Last year was the greatest (by weight) landing of any of these prey species in the past 15 years, with 90 million pounds of squid landed at local ports.
  • Elephant seals on rookeries in MBNMS have grown in population since the sanctuary was designated in 1992. Once hunted to the brink of extinction, elephant seals in MBNMS now number more than 30,000, with more than 7,500 new births last year.
  • Since around the time of MBNMS designation, the average annual count of southern sea otters has increased by over 60% from about 1,800 to over 2,900. Positive ecosystem impacts have rippled through the sanctuary as sea otters eat grazers that deplete kelp forests when overly abundant. The range of southern sea otters has also continued to expand, mostly to the south, as otters round Point Conception and head into southern California.
  • After spending almost three decades on the endangered species list, the Brown Pelican made a successful recovery and was removed from the list by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife in 2009. By the 1970s, the population was reduced to only 1,000 breeding pairs of pelicans, but in 2006 a census documented 11,695 breeding pairs in 10 locations in the region.
  • Humpback whales, which rely heavily on abundant prey in MBNMS, have increased dramatically since the early 1990s with a local sub-population now proposed to be removed from the endangered species list.

Paul Michel

MBNMS is finalizing a report on the condition of the ecosystem the sanctuary was designated to protect in 1992. National Marine Sanctuary Program Condition Reports provide a summary of resources in each sanctuary, pressures on those resources, current conditions and trends, and management responses to pressures that threaten the integrity of the marine environment. Specifically, the reports include information on the status and trends of water quality, habitat, living resources, maritime archaeological resources and the human activities that affect them. In response to the international focus on Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary during “Big Blue LIVE”, the sanctuary superintendent has issued a statement highlighting some preliminary findings from a new condition report for MBNMS scheduled for release in fall 2015. The previous MBNMS Condition Report was released in 2009.

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